In our faith tradition, we, each one of us, are called to be saints. Sure. We’ve heard this before: icons of Christ, manifesting Trinity, revealing God to each other through how we choose to live our lives. In the same way we are called to be martyrs; the hymn of the Holy Martyrs is sung during our sacrament of marriage while the new couple is led around the tetrapod, symbolically led by Christ through their united life. This mention of martyrdom in marriage often elicits chuckles; because fortunately, in Canada, we do not worry about Christian persecutions and sainthood (normally) does not appear on our daily agenda. But the saint, deriving from the Latin word for holy, and martyr, from the Latin for witness, is someone who truly embodies and models Christ for us and inspires us to do the same. That is why we honour saints throughout the Church year.
This initial period after Pentecost is dedicated to Ukrainian holy witnesses of Christ. Likely the mention of saints and Ukraine conjures an image of Volodymyr and Olha, the 10th-11th c royalty, who brought the Christian faith to Ukraine from Byzantium: familiar, yes, but not exactly the people next door. Since that Period of Princes, the Church has recognized the holiness of innumerable Ukrainians. More than can be named have been martyred—within our lifetime and that of recent generations. June 27th commemorated the New Martyrs of Ukraine.
As Western Europe and North America celebrated the end of the Second World War, Ukrainian and Eastern Europe suffered a renewed onslaught of vicious religious persecution by the Soviet regime. Priests, monastics, lay people, children were hunted, murdered, tortured, and starved in prisons and Siberian camps.
People no different from you or me, leading mundane lives: buying groceries, singing in the parish choir, changing diapers, taking out the garbage, meeting up for coffee. . . suddenly faced with unspeakable evil, unimaginable torment. Individuals forced into evil yet maintaining hope, continuing to be kind, loving, generous. We look to these individuals and see God.
Let’s remember them. Let’s honour them and join our prayers and lives to theirs. Let’s follow their example and live as saints and martyrs in our own ordinary lives so that we may actively build a world that opposes evil and persecution of others.